Application Process


USCIS aims to process I-129 applications within 2 months. However, R-1 applications have lengthy backlogs and frequent requests for evidence. USCIS has tightened their scrutiny on R-1 visas after extensive abuse and fraudulent use of the religious worker visa. Additionally, petitioning non-profit religious organizations must also successfully pass a site inspection by a USCIS officer; which can take up to 90 days. Once that is complete, the intending worker may undergo consular processing to receive their R-1 visa (if residing abroad). Thus, the total timeframe can be anywhere for 4-8 months from start to finish. Premium processing is available for organizations which have petitioned for religious work visas in the past and successfully passed the site inspection.

Applying From Outside the US

    Step 1: Petitioning Religious Organization Files form I-129 on behalf of intending religious worker along with all required evidence. USCIS may conduct a site visit to verify that there is a bona fide religious organization.

    Step 2: USCIS approves form I-129 within 5 months and notifies the consular office of the available visa.

    Step 3: Intending religious worker undergoes consular processing in their country of residence to receive the visa. Please see here for more information regarding the consular process.

    Step 4: R-1 visa is issued, and the religious worker is permitted to travel to the US and begin work at the religious organization.

Applying From Inside the US

Some individuals may wish to change their status to R-1 from another status (such as F1, OPT, B1/B2) while in the US. The petition religious organization must file form I-129 similar to the steps above. Once the I-129 is approved, the intending religious worker’s status will change on the designated employment starting date & the alien may then begin work for the religious organization. However, should you leave the US; you will need to apply for an R-1 visa at a US consulate abroad.

Supporting Document Requirements

From Petitioning Non-profit Religious Organization:

  • Proof of tax exempt status, usually IRS 501(c)(3) letter;
  • Proof of salaried or non-salaried compensation. Can be budget, proof of past compensation for similar position, evidence of room & board provided, W-2s, etc. If room & board will be provided as part of the compensation, documentary evidence is needed to demonstrate the organizations intent & ability to provide it.
  • Attestation from authorized religious official that: the religious organization is a bona fide non-profit; the intending worker has been a member of the organization for at least 2 years; the number of members of the employer’s organization; job description & number of employees at the job site; number of workers holding R-1 or special immigrant status that have worked for the organization over the past 5 years; number of R-1 or special immigrant petitions filed by the organization for the past 5 years; job title offered to intending worker; details of salaries or non-salaried compensation; that the intending worker will work 35 hours per week; the specific location of the intending employment; and that the intending worker will not engage in employment outside the religious organization.

From Intending Religious Worker

  • Evidence that religious worker has been a member of the denomination for 2 years immediately prior to petition filing. Can be: religious certificates, ordinations, acceptance into the denomination, courses & education completion in the organization, transcripts, etc.
  • Evidence of the intending workers religious background, such as: certificates of ordination, or acceptance as a minister or related religious position.
  • If worker will be financially self-supporting, evidence of nature of position as to why it is not salaried, including job duties, and evidence of financial ability for worker to support themself (bank records, pay stubs, etc) is needed.

For more information about Visas, please click on one of the following links: